Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition disrupted the Assembly proceedings on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of Culture and Fisheries Minister Saji Cherian over his alleged disparaging comments about the Constitution.
The Opposition’s protest erupted when Speaker M.B. Rajesh stepped up to the rostrum, signalling the start of Question Hour.
UDF legislators flourished copies of the Constitution's preamble and raised placards condemning Mr. Cherian's statement.
They accused Mr. Cherian of publicly disavowing his ministerial oath of office. The Opposition said Mr. Cherian had lost the right to continue in office.
Treasury benches rose in support of Mr. Cherian. UDF legislators trooped into the well of the House and mobbed the Speaker's dais.
Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan demanded the Speaker set aside the usual Assembly business to debate Mr. Cherian's controversial averments about the Constitution.
A three-minute video clip of Mr. Cherian's speech at a Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] programme surfaced on Tuesday, triggering Congress and Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) protests demanding Mr. Cherian's resignation.
Mr. Rajesh said he could entertain an adjournment motion only during the Zero Hour. He said previous Speakers had disallowed adjournment motions moved during Question Hour. Mr. Rajesh requested the Opposition to respect previous rulings and uphold precedence.
Mr. Satheesan protested the Speaker's decision and led UDF legislators out of the House. The MLAs continued their protest in front of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's statue in the Assembly precincts. Mr. Rajesh adjourned the House for the day.
Speaking to reporters after the opposition walk-out, Mr. Satheeshan said Mr. Cherian had spoken in the voice of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue M.S. Golwalkar.
He said Mr. Cherian had echoed Golwalkar's opinion that the Constitution was a colonial bequest to the nation.
Mr. Satheesan alleged that Mr. Cherian had attempted to undermine the stature of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Constitution's revered architect.
Mr. Satheeshan said Mr. Cherian had called the Constitution anti-labour. The Minister should understand that the pro-worker Industrial Disputes Act and Minimum Wages Act were part of Indian law.
Mr. Satheesan said: “Mr. Cherian should quit his post and go and join the RSS where he truly belongs. He could even become a central minister.”
He demanded that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan state whether the government shared Mr. Cherian's views about the Constitution.
The CPI(M) should clarify its position on the issue. Mr. Satheesan said the Opposition would agitate till Mr. Vijayan expelled Mr. Cherian from the cabinet.
Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader P.K. Kunhalikutty said Mr. Cherian had, at a stroke, weakened the national movement against the Bharathiya Janata Party-led Central government's attempts to chip away at the Constitution's secular, federal and democratic foundations.
Meanwhile, the government has reportedly sought legal opinion on the matter.
Mr. Cherian had averred that the media had misconstrued his speech as against the Constitution. He said he had spoken for three hours at a programme solely for CPI(M) members at Mallapally in Pathanamthitta on Sunday. It was not a public stage.
Mr. Cherian claimed that television channels had broadcast a cherry-picked version of his speech. He had merely observed that social justice remained a distant dream for the masses, despite 75 years of Independence. However, the video clip that went viral in the media was barely three minutes.
Meanwhile, the CPI(M) was conducting an internal enquiry into the provenance of the video clip.